Tag Archives: management

The Power of a Compliment

Telling others that you appreciate them can make a huge difference

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-the power of compliment

In the years between high school graduation and my first real job, I took on a variety of part-time work while being a full-time student. During one such vocational transition, the placement advisor at school knew of an immediate opening for an audio engineer at a TV station. I arrived to find out it would be a group interview, not a group of people interviewing me, but rather one person simultaneously interviewing three candidates.

Stan was an odd-looking guy, with clothes and a hairstyle emanating from the previous decade. Despite the powerful magnification of his Coke-bottle glasses, he still squinted at everything. Stan led us candidates to an open room and the interview quickly fell into an awkward pattern. Stan would ask a question and we would respond in order, with me going last. With my classmates embellishing many of their answers, I struggled to honestly present myself as the desirable candidate.

Telling others that you appreciate them can make a huge difference. Click To Tweet

After a while, the classmate who went first blurted out, “I have a Third Class FCC License.” “This position doesn’t require an FCC License,” Stan responded. “I have a Second Class FCC License,” the second one boasted.

Then all eyes turned to me. Should I let them know that my credential was even better, although equally irrelevant? Or would my silence communicate another deficiency in this game I was losing? Opting to avoid further silence, I informed the group that I had a First Class FCC License.

Of course, this meant nothing as far as the job was concerned. Everyone was uncomfortable with this exchange but as the last one to speak, I felt it more acutely. Seeking to defuse the tension, I changed the subject. “When do you want us to start?”

“As soon as possible,” Stan replied.

“I can start in two weeks,” volunteered contestant number one.

“I can start in three days,” bested contestant number two.

“I can start tomorrow,” I asserted confidently.

“Okay,” Stan replied, “be at the station at 6:30 tomorrow morning.” I was hired!

The first day I watched Stan work and did a lot of listening. As he explained it, the job seemed simple. There was lots of idle time, four live broadcasts and on some days production work in between. However, he was more interested in regaling his glory days as a radio DJ than in training me. It turned out that Stan was also a silent partner in an out-of-town enterprise; his presence was urgently required to protect his investment. As soon as my two weeks of training were completed, Stan would be gone.

On my second day, Stan let me touch the control panel, and I did the first live segment. It was a 30-second weather report. I turned on the mike when the weatherman was cued and turned it off when he was done. There was a mike check beforehand and I monitored the level as he spoke. I did the second live broadcast, too, a one-minute news segment. Stan did the third segment: news and weather – two mikes!

The half hour noon show, however, was overwhelming. There were a half a dozen mikes to activate, monitor, and kill, recordings for musical bridges, an array of possible audio sources, and a live announcer, plus an abrupt change in plans if a segment ran long or there was time to fill.

On the third day, Stan called in to tell me he would be late. He reviewed expectations of the first two segments, and I did them solo. He called later, before the third, and we talked it through; he promised to be in before the noon show. I did the third segment by myself.

Stan called to say he had been watching, and I had done fine. Could I do the noon show by myself? “No!” I asserted. “Okay, he assured, “I will come in, but let’s talk through it just in case.” I never saw Stan again; my “training” was over.

With sweaty palms and a knotted gut, I muddled my way through the noon show, knowing that thousands would hear any miscue. By the time the show ended, I was physically exhausted; my head ached.

This pattern repeated itself before each noon show for the next several months. If only I had received more training to boost my confidence.

On-the-job training was fine for production work. Time was not an issue and retakes were common, expected, and accepted. If I lacked training in some area, the director instructed me.

The live shows were a different story. It was tense and nerve-racking; they expected perfection and didn’t tolerate errors. This produced an incredible amount of pressure and anxiety.

This stress was partly due to my lack of training, but more importantly a result of the directors; I worked with three. My favorite was nice and kind; he remembered what it was like to do my job and was empathic. Unfortunately, I seldom worked with him.

The second director was aloof and focused only on the broadcast, not caring what he said or how he treated others. Fortunately, I didn’t work with him too much.

Most of my interaction was with a third director. During live broadcasts, he became verbally volatile and abusive. He yelled – a lot. When he was mad, he yelled louder – all laced with expletives. Management via intimidation was his style. My goal was to get through the noon show without a verbal tongue-lashing; usually I was unsuccessful. Of course, this made me even tenser.

Although most of the work was fine, my angst from this half hour each day caused me to despise my job. Thankfully, my remaining time was short, as graduation neared. I grabbed the first job offer and gave my two-week notice.

Ironically, the day after I submitted my resignation, the volatile director asked, “You should be getting some vacation, soon, shouldn’t you?”

“I haven’t put in enough time, yet,” I replied. “Besides, I just gave my two-weeks’ notice.”

“What!” He slammed some papers on the table with a curse. “I can’t believe it.” His face turned red. “We finally get someone good, and they don’t pay him enough to stay.”

I was dumbfounded. “Good?” I questioned. “I’m not good.”

“You’re the best audio engineer we’ve had in years.”

“What about Stan?” I asked.

“Stan was an idiot. He was always making mistakes. We couldn’t get through a broadcast without him screwing it up. You did better your first week than he ever did.”

“But, I make mistakes every day.”

“Your mistakes are trivial,” he disclosed. “Few viewers ever notice.” As he picked up his papers and left the room, I contemplated what he had said. I am good!

Not surprisingly, I had a new attitude during the noon show that day. My nervousness dissipated, I made no “mistakes,” no one yelled at me, and most significantly, I enjoyed it. My job was fun.

On my second to the last day there, I met the weekend audio engineer. She was thinking about taking over my shift. She wanted to see what was involved in the noon show. Unfortunately, that day the show was one of the most difficult I had encountered. There was a live band, with each person and instrument separately miked, plus there were a few unusual twists. I would need every piece of gear in the room and use the entire audio console. Although it was stressful, it was a good stress, because I was a good audio engineer. I performed my part without error, earning a rare compliment from my critical director. At the end of the show, I leaned back with the knowledge of a job well done.

My protégé shook her head. “I could never do that,” she sighed and left the room.

My last two weeks at the TV station were most enjoyable. As such, it is with fondness that I recall my time there. How might things have been even better if someone had told me sooner that I was doing a good job?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

The Gift of Feedback

7 Steps to Move from Confrontation to Conversation

By Dr. David Chinsky

David Chinsky-performance problem

Feedback is a gift that anchors your relationships in honesty. Everyone depends upon the feedback they receive to appreciate and reinforce their areas of strength, and to identify areas for personal and professional growth and development.

While there is no question that many people miss numerous opportunities to provide more frequent positive feedback that is specific, timely, and genuine, the bigger challenge for most people is providing constructive feedback that reduces the wall of defensiveness that often accompanies their feedback.

The seven-step constructive feedback process outlined below offers a framework that converts the typical constructive feedback confrontation into a more productive feedback conversation.

Develop a shared understanding about the situation and to identify causes of performance problems. Click To Tweet

The Seven-Step Process

Step 1: Describe the Performance Problem

Employees (or colleagues or bosses) must first understand the problem that you’re experiencing with them before they can be expected to improve. In this step, you should describe the actual performance and/or behavior and contrast it with the expected performance. To begin, simply describe the problem in a sentence or two. Remain as objective as possible and stick to one point—do not talk about multiple performance issues in the same feedback discussion.

Here’s an example:

“Tom, I’d like to talk with you because I’ve noticed that you’ve been late to four of our last five meetings.” That’s it. If you can’t describe the performance problem in 30 seconds or less, you don’t know what the problem is yourself. In Step 1, state the performance problem in a concise, simple-to-understand fashion. There should be no ambiguity as to why you’re having this conversation.

Step 2: Explain the Impact

During the typical feedback discussion, leaders often jump from the description of the problem directly to the development of an action plan. They want to know immediately what the employee is going to do to resolve the problem. To assure meaningful feedback conversations, employees must know how their behavior is impacting others. In this step, convey the unacceptable impact of the behavior, or the unacceptable performance, on colleagues, the organization and perhaps even the individual himself or herself.

Let’s go back to the previous example of Tom being late to meetings, as described in Step 1 above.

Step 2 would continue the conversation with: “When you are late, it causes us to have to stop what we’re doing while everyone acknowledges your late arrival, and this interrupts the momentum of our meeting and lowers our productivity.”

This second step is very important because many times the employee doesn’t even realize his behavior is causing a negative impact. If you don’t describe how his behavior affects others, he might quickly dismiss the problem, saying something like, “Yeah, so what’s your point? A lot of other people are late, too.” So, rather than just talking about the problem of being late, help him understand the impact he’s having by being late. It’s not just the lateness you’re talking about, it’s the diminished productivity, the lack of momentum, the interruption—and some might even say it’s the dishonoring of the punctuality of the other people who arrived on time.

Here’s another example, incorporating both Steps 1 and 2:

“Jen, I wanted to talk with you today because I’ve noticed that you are the first to dismiss the ideas of other members of our team. Before you ask questions and try to understand someone else’s position, you immediately go on the attack.”

That’s the problem, or Step 1, in 30 seconds or less. The impact might be stated as follows, in 30 seconds or less:

“When you are so quick to judge, it causes other members of the team to withdraw and withhold their input because they are afraid that when they speak you’re going to cut them off or give all the reasons why their idea is stupid. This works against the environment I’m trying to create where everyone feels comfortable sharing their unique perspectives.”

Step 3: Identify the Cause

Once you have described the problem and explained the impact, then you can work with the employee to identify the cause of the performance problem you described in Step 1.Don’t jump in and immediately propose what you believe is causing the problem. Let the employee take the lead here. Your job is to ask one good open-ended question that invites him to think about what might be causing his lateness—or what might be preventing her from listening before she shoots down a teammate’s idea.

The goal with this step is to develop a shared understanding about the situation and to identify causes of performance problems. Encourage the employee to discuss the performance from his or her point of view. Once you’ve asked your one open-ended Step 3 question, such as “What’s preventing you from getting to our meetings on time?” or “What is preventing you from asking questions first before becoming critical of others’ ideas?”, your job is to let “silence do the heavy lifting”. Do not give in to the temptation of answering this question for the other person. What you think may be causing the problem is not always the case.

Step 4: Develop an Action Plan

You will develop a more meaningful action plan once you’ve clearly described the problem, explained the impact and identified the cause. If you simply leap from performance problem to action plan, you’ll miss out on a lot of conversation that might help to customize the specific elements of an action plan.

In Step 4, you’re looking for the employee to tell you what he will commit to doing differently to ensure he’s able to get to meetings on time or what she will do to take time to listen first to her colleagues’ ideas before jumping in and being negative.

Step 4 leads to the identification of a solution, a time table for any follow-up actions and an action plan that is specific and measurable.

Step 5: Confirm Understanding

Before the conversation ends, ensure that both you and your employee are on the same page. This is an opportunity for you or the employee to summarize what was discussed, who has agreed to what, and when you expect these changes to occur. If there is any disconnect, you can identify it and resolve it during Step 5—not two weeks or a month down the road when you expect something to be done and then realize you misunderstood each other.

Step 6: Document the Conversation

Take a few minutes to document the conversation, even if this is the first time you’ve had to talk with an employee about an issue—and certainly if it’s the second time you’re having the same conversation. When you document the conversation you’ve had, you’ll have the information available should this develop into a more serious performance management issue.

Step 7: Follow Up to Ensure Satisfactory Performance

More than likely, you or your employee will make some kind of commitment during the feedback conversation. It’s incredibly important to follow up on these commitments. This helps you determine if the employee has actually improved or changed behavior. Your efforts are wasted if you don’t take the time to follow up as needed.

When these seven steps are performed in the order in which they are presented above, you will engage more confidently and effectively when the need arises to provide constructive feedback. In about a minute or less, you will have set up the conversation by describing the problem, explaining the impact and asking one good question to turn the conversation over to the person receiving your feedback. This will ensure that you maintain control of the beginning of these conversations when others may attempt to derail your efforts or move you off point

Dr. David Chinsky is the Founder of the Institute for Leadership Fitness, a celebrated speaker, and author of The Fit Leader’s Companion: A Down-to-Earth Guide for Sustainable Leadership Success. After spending nearly twenty years in executive leadership positions at the Ford Motor Company, Nestle and Thomson Reuters, he now focuses on preparing leaders to achieve their highest level of professional effectiveness and leadership fitness. For more information on Dr. David Chinsky, please visit: www.FitLeadersAcademy.com.

5 Double-Edged Sword Philosophies that Lead to Destructive Company Culture

By Magi Graziano

Magi Graziano-edged sword philosophies

Most of us spend the majority of our time at the office or actively working inside or as part of a human work system.  Whether we are conscious to it or not, the corporate culture of an organization can make or break how we feel about the organization and our place in it.

While most awake and aware leaders say they want a constructive corporate culture, many are uncertain of what it really takes to shape it. Consequently, these executives and managers unintentionally lead their people toward the fatal, destructive side of the culture coin. They do this by buying into five double-edged sword philosophies: Winning above all else, commanding and controlling, opposing others, pursuing perfection, and keeping the peace. These philosophies will undermine your mission to craft a constructive corporate culture.

1. Winning Above All Else

Winning is an incredibly powerful motivator. The desire to win can move mountains and bring in profits, however, when the need to win overwrites better judgement, fragments and erodes core values, runs over people, and leads people to the brink of exhaustion, it must be called out and new behaviors that promote and inspire must be integrated into the culture.  In pursuit of results above all else can cost of relationships, health and wellness, trust, quality and safety.

Inside competitive work cultures, members are often expected to operate in a “win-lose” framework, outperform peers, and work against (rather than with) their coworkers. What begins with a healthy race often devolves into unproductive dog-eat-dog internal workplace behavior.

The corporate culture of an organization can make or break how we feel about the organization and our place in it. Click To Tweet

A once healthy desire to “beat the competition” gone unchecked, very often, creates opportunities for unproductive behavior and perpetuating neural pathways and automatic ways of thinking and being that result in an organization eating itself alive. These shows up on the floor by people arguing for win/lose scenarios, in-fighting for power, control, rewards, promotions and resources. A focal shift from we to me, where silo’ and personalized thinking prevail.

Even though the intentions of leaders who want to “win” is most often well-meaning, a workplace culture that values winning above all else can be fertile ground for destructive behavior and employment brand erosion.

2. Commanding and Controlling

In power-driven organizations, hierarchy reigns and members of the management team are expected to take charge, control subordinates, and yield to the demands of superiors. Historically, this has been the ‘right’ way to lead and for many decades it actually worked. This model is flawed, however, and those managed by people who admire and enjoy this model atrophy and stagnate. In workplace cultures where this type of behavior is rewarded, the powerful take over and the powerless surrender.

When leaders and team members are expected and even encouraged to power up over others, people in the organization often view themselves as pawns in the micromanagement chess game, or simply as cogs in the organizational profit wheel. They lose motivation and initiative and give less of their discretionary time to make the organization better. Commanding and controlling is a vicious cycle, and the only way out is to call it out, and inspire a new way to lead and a new way to follow.

3. Opposing Others

In oppositional workplace cultures there is often a root of overcoming obstacles that afforded the organization sustainability and success over years. But what often got us here will not get us there; and opposition is one of those elements of culture, much like winning at all costs, that turns the organization against itself. In work cultures where members are expected to be critical, oppose ideas of others, and make ‘safe’ decisions, people drop into fear, and suppress their ideas and creativity. Opposition shows up in communication such as, “Yes, but,” “We already tried that and it failed,” “I have been here for years and I know it won’t work,” and “No, because.” While everyone ought to be singing from the same overall hymnal and work together in tolerance and engagement, members of this type of organization spend far too much time navigating personalities and conflict, than collaborating, innovating and solving problems.

4. Pursuing Perfection

In other cases, there are leaders’ of quality-driven organizations who pride themselves with a commitment to excellence. While that intention may have been initially pure and congruent with the leader’s values, all too often the unconscious underlying behavior that is fostered with this value is perfection. In a culture of perfection, people do not take risks, they do not try new things, and they almost certainly do not put themselves or their reputation on the line to color outside the lines.

Leaders of many modern organizations often stake their reputations on delivering excellence or superior service. There are not many CEOs, who would stand behind sending out sloppy work, or delivering code to customers littered with errors; but there is a subtle difference between standing for quality and being in pursuit of perfection.

Perfection, by nature of its definition, leaves very little room for risk taking and creativity in your organization. When curiosity is stifled and looking good is the primary focus, mistakes are hidden, learning is mitigated, and growth is constrained. In an environment where perfection is celebrated and rewarded, conventionality emerges as a safe bet for staying out of the boss’ cross hairs. In a work place that prioritizes perfectionism, members are expected to conform follow the rules and make a good impression, and the byproduct of making a good impression and following the rules is that creativity and risk-taking are thwarted and innovation becomes impossible. Resistance to change becomes a blocker to progress and complacency sets in. While certain roles demand perfection or someone could die, perfection as a culture, limits and constrains what is possible for the organization and the people in it.

5. Keeping the Peace and Getting Along

Everyone who is anyone in business understands the need to cooperate with others in the workplace and the need for teamwork and collaboration. However, creating a work culture where everyone has to be liked and everyone has to get along with little to no emphasis on performance or results; most often leads to over-the-top consensus building, perceived favoritism, a loss of focus and ambition, inconsistent accountability and a very destructive fear of conflict.

In a work culture where needing approval is a core component of how the organization works, team members are expected to agree with, gain the approval of and be liked by others. In a work place such as this, disagreements are frowned upon and people are encouraged to go along with the crowd—even when the crowd is prepared to drive off a cliff. When team members fear conflict, even constructive conflict, they are incapable of engaging in debates or openly voicing opinions. The team avoids conflicts; which involve speaking up against bad decisions thus leading to inferior organizational results.

It‘s imperative to understand that “keeping the peace” workplace cultures can be an insidious thief of organizational and talent optimization.  Keeping the peace has the potential have rob the organization and its people experiencing the highest levels of role fulfillment and role satisfaction. When people and the human system they operate in does not actively engage in productive ways of being including; constructive conflict, speaking their truth, giving new ideas, and sharing insights of what is not working; they can never really get to real engagement in the workplace.

The five double-edged sword philosophies can sweep the rug out from under your company’s overall mission and set you drastically off track. Shaping constructive culture is about intentionally causing the kind of corporate culture that exemplifies your brand promise. This takes a solid and palatable intention for that culture as a holistic human system, a system of people operating as a living and agile organism. Intentional culture is all about monitoring what you are creating and making necessary shifts along the way to ensure you are accomplishing what you set out to by creating the intentional culture in the first place. 

Magi Graziano, as seen on NBC, is the CEO of KeenAlignment, a speaker, employee recruitment and engagement expert and author of The Wealth of Talent. Through her expansive knowledge and captivating presentations, Magi provides her customers with actionable, practical ideas to maximize their effectiveness and ability to create high-performing teams. With more than twenty years’ experience as a top producer in the Recruitment and Search industry, she empowers and enables leaders to bring transformational thinking to the day-to-day operation. For more information on Magi please visit www.KeenAlignment.com.

The Only Constant is Change

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As I look back, I see how things have changed. I have changed, my family has changed, technologies have changed, my business has changed, and the industries I work in have changed.

In today’s business environment, a culture of change is essential for every organization. In my younger days, I would recommend change for the sheer fun of it. Now, older and wiser, I only advocate change when there is a real reason to do so.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Click To Tweet

For most people, change is difficult. Change takes something familiar and replaces it with something unknown. Each organization has people who are change resistant. And each leader, manager, and supervisor knows exactly who these people are. With such folks, their aversion to change varies from unspoken trepidation to being overtly confrontational. Regardless of the manifestation, we need to be compassionate, realizing that these reactions are merely their way of responding to fear—fear of the unknown.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Generally employees can accept change if 1) the change is incremental and small, 2) they have a degree of input or control over the change, and 3) the change is clearly understood.

The key is communication. Address change head on. For every change, employees wonder how it will affect them:

  • Could they lose their job?
  • Might their hours be cut?
  • Will they be asked to work harder than they already are?
  • Will they be made to do something unpleasant or distasteful?
  • What happens if they can’t learn the new skills?

These are all worries, worries about the unknown. As with most worries, the majority will never happen. But with a lack of reliable information and top-down assurances, these irrational worries take on a life all their own.

Successfully orchestrating change requires effective communication. Not once, but ongoing; not to key staff, but to all employees; not by one method, but by several: group meetings, written correspondence, and one-on-one discussions. A true and effective open door policy helps, too. Also, it is critical that a positive attitude is set, at the beginning, from the top of the organization, which never waivers. Celebrate milestones, generously thank staff along the way, and provide reasonable rewards at the end.

Successfully taking these steps will send a strong signal to staff. Even though the change may still concern them, they will be comforted knowing they have accurate information and the assurance that they are safe and will be protected. And for each successful change, the next one becomes easier to bring about.

We will know we have successfully created a change-friendly organization when our employees—all of them—get bored with the status quo and begin seeking change on their own. They will ask for more challenging work, seek to expand their job, and want to add new technology. At this point, the potential of our organizations becomes unlimited; the personal growth of our staff, unshackled; and the future, inviting. We don’t know what that future will entail, only that things will change for the better.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride, fully confident that the only constant is change.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

One-on-One Meetings Matter More Than You Know

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-One-on-One Meetings

There are only two of us in my department. Why should I bother with a formal meeting? We sit right across from each other.

I tried meeting individually with my direct reports, but they had nothing to talk about. Besides, we’re all adults. We know what we’re supposed to be doing at work.

I work in a matrix environment. I see my direct report about once a month, and that’s usually at a larger meeting or when we’re passing each other in the hallway. I have no idea what he does. At review time, I rely on other people to tell me.

Without trying too hard, it’s easy for many managers to compile a long list of reasons not to meet with the people they supervise. 

And guess what? The volume of reasons does not outweigh the value and importance of a regularly scheduled tête-à-tête with a direct report.

If you’ve fallen out of the habit of holding regular one-on-one meetings or if you’re not getting all you could from them, now is the time to take another look Click To Tweet

Benefits of Regular One-on-One Meetings

If used correctly, over time managers and employees can enjoy many benefits by meeting one on one.

  • Visible appreciation: Time is currency. If managers carve out time for their people and are prepared when they meet, they show they value their direct reports.
  • Better thinking: Regular one-on-one meetings give managers and employees space to step away from the urgent and immediate and to think more holistically and strategically about work, goals, and development opportunities.
  • Stronger results: Accountability tends to improve when people have an opportunity or a requirement to report on their progress.

The Perfect One-on-One

Once a manager has bought into the value of one-on-one meetings, the next step is to execute them in a way that works for the manager and the employee. Good one-on-one meetings are not one-size-fits-all activities. That said, there are a few guidelines that can make a one-on-one meeting successful.

  1. Pick a schedule and stick to it. One-on-ones shouldn’t regularly disappear from the calendar simply because something else suddenly comes up.
  2. Choose a frequency that makes sense. For some people meeting once a month may be enough. For others, meeting weekly may be more appropriate. Every relationship is different. Furthermore, circumstances evolve. Depending on what’s happening inside and outside of the organization, an employee’s needs could change drastically. Meeting frequency should be looked at from time to time. If the rate of meetings is correct, managers and employees should not routinely find themselves with no reason to meet.
  3. Follow a written agenda. Well-run one-on-one meetings are not free-for-all conversations. They follow an agenda just as any other good meeting does. A one-on-one meeting agenda might include such topics as current projects, progress on yearly development goals, current challenges, and so forth.
  4. Put employees in the driver’s seat by having them manage and document the agenda. As a manager, you may create the initial agenda format. But once you do, your employees should take ownership of the documents associated with their one-on-one meetings.

Troubleshooting

One-on-one meetings rarely go from nonexistent or dysfunctional to perfect overnight. For that reason, managers should prepare to overcome a variety of obstacles.

Obstacle 1: Employees question the new meeting.

Solution: Reduce the surprise factor. If a manager has never held one-on-one meetings, they might come as a surprise to employees. To avoid feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or worse, socialize the idea before loading the calendar with unexpected surprises. “This year, I would like to focus more on individual development. Within the next week or two, please expect to see a meeting request from me on your calendar. I believe we will all benefit if I spend time with each of you individually at regularly scheduled intervals. How often we will meet will depend on each of your needs and what we decide together.”

Obstacle 2: An employee doesn’t take charge of the meeting.

Solution: Show them how. A good agenda can go a long way toward making the conversation flow. Although employees should have ultimate responsibility for keeping the agenda, this may take time. In the beginning, managers may have to model what they want to see. “For our first few meetings, I’ll prepare the agenda. Once we’ve found our groove, my plan is to turn it over to you to own. This means you’ll add to it between meetings and bring a copy for you and me when we meet.”

Obstacle 3: An employee gives short or general answers to questions.

Solution: Get specific. The more focused a manager’s questions are, the better the conversation tends to be. For example, instead of asking “what are you working on,” a manager might say, “tell me about the project that is going best right now and why that is.”

Obstacle 4: An employee seems unresponsive.

Solution: Leverage silence. When managers don’t get immediate feedback, they sometimes mistake silence for non-responsiveness. It’s important for managers to remember they already know the questions. The employee is hearing them for the first time and may need some time to digest and think about what’s being asked. Instead of rephrasing questions that don’t produce an immediate answer, managers need to get comfortable with letting silence sit in the room.  

Reevaluate From Time-to-Time

Like anything, one-on-one meetings can get stale. It’s important to look at the format and frequency from time to time and to solicit feedback regarding what’s working and what isn’t.

If you’ve fallen out of the habit of holding regular one-on-one meetings or if you’re not getting all you could from them, now is the time to take another look. After all, can you really afford not to?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.